Arts Desk

This Week in Repertory Film: Bridge Over Troubled Water, For the Love of Movies

In the 40 years since Simon & Garfunkel released their final—and seminal—studio album Bridge Over Troubled Water, the singers' solo careers could not have been more divergent. Paul Simon, before settling in to his current incarnation as a Baby-Boomer nostalgia act, had more success than most reggae and afropop artists in popularizing those genres. (Remember, Vampire Weekend owes all its success to Simon's Graceland.) Art Garfunkel receded from public view into a long slump of depression and musical flops before emerging as a poet, sometime actor, and bibliophile who until September 2009 posted the name every book he's ever read. (Most recent entry: Nora Ephron's 2006 compilation of essays I Feel Bad About My Neck.)

The 40th anniversary of Bridge Over Troubled Water (Sony BMG) includes a DVD of The Harmony Game, a retrospective on the album's writing, production, and critical aftermath. In the 72-minute documentary, Simon, Garfunkel, and their associated producers from four decades ago recall their process—perform, write, perform, record—but seemingly little controversy in this five-minute clip. In reality Simon & Garfunkel were finished as a permanent act soon after the album's release, and though they have reunited every few years since 1970, Simon has often professed jealousy-tinged regret that he allowed Garfunkel to sing the title track as a soaring gospel solo. (The two now trade off the song's lyrics during contemporary performances.)

Thursday, March 3, 7 p.m. At West End Cinema, 2301 M Street NW. (202) 419-3456. $11.

Andrew Sarris in For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism

Some years ago I took a college course on art criticism. Of the many lessons imparted, several are especially relevant to film commentary: be pithy, avoid catchphrases and unnecessary adverbs, don't pull one's punches, and try to end key sentences with a noun, preferably of the monosyllabic type. (See what I did there?)

Gerald Peary, film critic for the Boston Phoenix spent eight years on his 2009 documentary on the craft, For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. Though the title lacks brevity, the film looks back at nearly a century of the writers who tell the rest of us what to see. Peary delves back to the early internationalism of New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, who popularized Bergman and Fellini with American audiences. Yet much of the attention is devoted to the division between Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris that continues to define modern film criticism. Sarris, with his intellectual promotion of the auteur theory, waged a literary battle with Kael, always the contrarian and provocateur who taught all of us to call out bullshit when we see it. Peary gives Sarris, now 82 and still at his typewriter, plenty of screen time. Kael, who died in 2001 after a long bout with Parkinson's, appears in archival footage, though several "Paulettes"—most notably A.O. Scott and Elvis Mitchell—discuss Kael's anti-populism, enthusiasm for the visceral, and lasting impact on future movie addicts who throw themselves into a life of criticism. But Peary gives the populists a shake too with an interview with Roger Ebert recorded before the 2006 cancer surgery that robbed him of his audible voice.

Saturday, March 5, 4 p.m. At the National Gallery of Art East Wing, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, (202) 842-6799. Free.

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  • Jensen Lee

    The “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album was the last and best of this great duo. Every song on it is memorable.

    I recently posted on my Rockaeology blog at the story behind the title track. The song’s title has its roots in gospel music. Performing “Mary Don’t You Weep” with the Swan Silvertones in 1958, Claude Jeter sang, “I’ll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name.” Interesting point that Simon regretted that Garfunkel's vocal in that “Bridge” was written with Garfunkel in mind as the lead.

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